If you walk into the Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center in Annapolis, you will see it right away: a huge quilt with squares that each tell a story of Maryland’s African Americans who lived through and beyond slavery. On the second row from the quilt’s top, is a piece of Frederick’s story.
Frederick resident Carol Ambush Wright dug up an interesting photo that was reproduced and transferred to the patch representing her hometown — as well as the details behind it.
The “Frederick” patch bears an image of a two-century-old church that originated on East All Saints Street. The earliest black congregation that was allowed to worship at this sanctuary of mainly white people is standing in front of the building.
Today the church is home to an African American congregation and goes by the name Asbury United Methodist. To one side of this snapshot is another image; that of a man in a Civil War Union soldier uniform. He is holding a musical instrument and smiling faintly. His name was Patrick Henry Ambush, and he was Wright’s great, great grandfather’s brother.
“This statewide quilt-making challenge was taken on by partners in all 23 counties and Baltimore City. It celebrates the 150th Emancipation Anniversary year,” said Lyndra Marshall, vice chair of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, the governor-appointed group that oversaw the project.
The intricate fabric art depicts what was happening in Maryland African American history from prior to the Civil War though the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and a few years beyond. The quilt will eventually go on the road, stopping at museums, universities, and libraries around Maryland.
When Wright was asked by David Key, president of The African American Resource Cultural and Heritage Society in Frederick, to help with the quilt, she figured this project was cut out for her. Not only was she a member of the church in the photo, but for 20 years she had researched the soldier whose face is so prominent on the quilt square.
What she knew already of her ancestor, Patrick Henry Ambush, was that he co-founded the community of Pleasant View near Adamstown.
“After he obtained his freedom, he wanted to learn to read and write, and he attended school with his children to do so. Then he donated land for the first school and church in Pleasant View,” said Wright.
She had picked up other details along the way.
“I knew he was born in Georgetown, a former slave, and that he was a farmer most of his life.”
What most intrigued her was his service to the U.S. Army, and to learn of similar African American men’s stories from other Maryland counties.
“This patch square and some of the others show that African Americans did not just sit back waiting to be freed. They were in there, too, fighting this war. In the beginning, we couldn’t carry guns. But they were doing what was important and needed. They were scouts, cooks, taking care of the horses, mending shoes. As the war progressed and they could carry guns, they were on the battlefields,” she said.
“It makes my heart glad, and I am proud of those soldiers,” said Wright, who has a copy of the muster papers that Henry Ambush received when he left the Army.
“It elated me that my relative was chosen to represent Frederick County on this emancipation quilt.”
Key accepted the commission’s invitation to coordinate the Frederick quilt square contribution because he wanted to tell a piece of the story that he said not many people know.
“History books have focused on slavery and the underground railroad. But that is only a part of African American heritage. We want to tell the whole story. Their contributions to making this country what it is,” said Key.
Wright admits it was a learning experience for her — both in the way of what she discovered about Maryland and many of its people from well before her time.
“Allegany had a gorgeous quilt square of landscape showing mountains. There were squares with ships with African American sailors. There were farmers. There were a lot of churches, so you could see a spiritual people,” she said.
One patch shows a runaway slave in a “wanted” ad. And there was one of a massive stone in Glen Burnie, with a cross cut into it. It was believed to have been used as an altar for slaves, who worshipped in the woods after the churches they used as meeting houses during the slave rebellion were shut down.
The 10-foot by 10-foot emancipation quilt was unveiled Nov. 1 at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
“The whole scope of the experience of working on this project first hit me at the actual unveiling and ceremony,” said Key.
“I was honored to be asked to participate. But actually going down there and seeing it unveiled was the real experience,” he said, describing the moment that everyone was asked to turn their backs to the quilt, mounted on a huge rolling easel, and then when it was uncovered and spun around.
“This quilt will eventually travel. And when younger kids come to see it, they will say, ‘I didn’t know all that happened,’” said Wright. “It will trigger something in them to ask questions, and they will learn.”